In 1999, conservationists set aside 4,000 acres of cloud forest on the western slopes of the Andes in southern Ecuador to protect several rare endemic species. Now, that reserve—the Buenaventura Reserve—is set to expand by another 600 acres thanks to a recent land acquisition organized by Ecuador's Fundación Jocotoco, Rainforest Trust, and American Bird Conservancy.
The Buenaventura Reserve protects 15 globally endangered bird species. Among them is the endangered El Oro parakeet, a species of parrot that was discovered in 1980 when a team of ornithologists came across the green-plumed parrot while exploring the remote cloud forests of Ecuador.
The El Oro parakeet's range is small and under threat. The species inhabits the tropical cloud forests that grow on the western slopes of the Andes between 2,600 and 4,000 feet in elevation. Its habitat is being fragmented and destroyed as land is cleared for agriculture or by logging activity. The Buenaventura Reserve protects some of the El Oro parakeet's habitat and expanding its boundaries increases the protection the rare parrot will receive.
The El Oro parakeet is not the only bird that will be protected in Buenaventura. There are more than 330 species of birds that have been identified in the reserve, 34 of which are endemic to the area. Among the birds that call Buenaventura home are cloud forest pygmy owls, grey-backed hawks, rufous-headed antbirds, grey-breasted flycatchers, and long-wattled umbrellabirds. Many migratory birds also use the Buenaventura Reserve during part of the year including Swainson's hawks, olive-sided flycatchers, black-and-white warblers, and summer tanagers.
Photo courtesy American Bird Conservancy.
More About Birds
It being Thanksgiving and all, I'd just like to pay special homage to the majestic, the spectacular, the anything-but-dainty: wild turkey.
Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are the largest and most widespread of all gamebirds in North America. They inhabit mature hardwood forests across the continent and have a particular fondness for woodlands that border open spaces such as pastures, fields, and orchards.
Wild turkeys belong to the same species as the domesticated turkey. Males have dark, iridescent plumage, a red wattle, a prominent caruncle, and a black breast tuft. Females are smaller and have duller plumage than their male counterparts.
Although wild turkeys look too big to take to the air, they are indeed capable of flight (their domesticated counterparts are not). Wild turkeys forage in flocks and use their strong feet to scratch at the ground to uncover various bits of food—nuts, seeds, berries, and insects.
In the early 1900s, the wild turkey population suffered severe decline due to habitat destruction and over-hunting. Conservation efforts to save the wild turkey began in 1935 but were slow to take hold. Then, in the 1950s, new conservation techniques were introduced and wild turkeys began a substantial recovery. Now it is estimated that the wild turkey population tops 7 million.
So, on that happy note of wild turkey recovery and resilience, I would like to wish you all the very best this Turkey Day.
Photos © John Cancalosi / Getty Images.
Bonobos face a precarious future unless they receive better protection throughout their current range, a new study reveals. The study—conducted by scientists from the University of Georgia, the University of Maryland, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and several other groups—also revealed that bonobos actively avoid areas where humans are present. Scientists hope that by better understanding the current distribution of bonobos, as well as the factors that determine that distribution, conservationists can better select habitat critical bonobo habitat to protect.
Bonobos are one of two species belonging to the genus Pan (the other species is the common chimpanzee). Bonobos inhabit the lowland forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Their range is restricted to areas south of the Congo River. The species faces multiple threats including habitat fragmentation, human disturbance, and poaching. Additionally, the Democratic Republic of Congo is plauged by war and political instability, making it difficult to implement and enforce any conservation efforts.
Of the bonobo's current range, less than one-third is suitable habitat for bonobos; the remainder is compromized by habitat destruction, human disturbance, and poaching. And of the habitat that is suitable for bonobos, only one quarter is protected. The bonobo is included on the IUCN Red List and is classified as an endangered species. The most recent estimates of the bonobo population suggests there are between 29,500 and 50,000 individuals.
Photo © Anup Shah / Getty Images.
More About Bonobos and Chimpanzees
I just added a new profile to the Habitat Encyclopedia. Please visit the new Tundra profile page to find out about this unique region and its many animal inhabitants.
The tundra is a terrestrial biome that is characterized by extreme cold, low biological diversity, long winters, brief growing seasons, and limited drainage. Tundra habitat occurs in regions of the world that are both very cold and very dry. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic tundra lies between the North Pole and the boreal forest. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Antarctic tundra occurs on remote islands off the coast of Antarctica (such as the South Shetland Islands and the South Orkney Islands) as well as on the Antarctic peninsula. Outside of the polar regions, there is another type of tundra, alpine tundra, which occurs at at high altitudes on mountains, above the treeline.
To find out more, be sure to read the Tundra profile.
Photo © Paul Oomen / Getty Images.
More Habitat Profiles
I just added a new profile to the Habitat Encyclopedia. Please visit the new Boreal Forest profile page to find out about this unique region and its many animal inhabitants.
Boreal forests form a circumpolar ecoregion that stretches across Canada—from Alaska to Newfoundland—and extends across northern Europe and Asia—from Scandinavia to eastern Russia. Boreal forests support a variety of wildlife that includes Northern saw-whet owls, grizzly bears, black flies, American bitterns, grey herons, snow geese, snowshoe hares, Siberian tigers, muskox, Arctic fox, Arctic wolves, elk, grizzly bear, caribou, and wolverines.
To find out more, be sure to read the Boreal Forest profile.
Photo © Evgeny Kuzmenko / iStockphoto.
I just added a new profile to the Habitat Encyclopedia. Please visit the new Great Lakes profile page to find out about this unique region and the wildlife that calls it home.
The Great Lakes are a chain of five large, freshwater lakes that are located in central North America, astride the border between Canada and the United States. The Great Lakes encompasses a wide variety of freshwater and terrestrial habitats including coniferous and hardwood forests, freshwater marshes, freshwater wetlands, dunes, grasslands, and prairies. Some of the many animal species that are native to the Great Lakes region include walleye, lake whitefish, great blue herons, Canada lynx, and moose.
To find out more, be sure to read the Great Lakes profile.
Photo © Ed Reschke / Getty Images.
I just added a new profile to the Animal Encyclopedia. Let's give a warm welcome to the mouse-like rodents.
Mouse-like rodents are the most diverse (in terms of species numbers) group of rodents alive today. There are about 1,400 species of mouse-like rodents, including lemmings, dormice, hamsters, mice, rats, voles, harvest mice, muskrats, gerbils, and many others. Members of this group are specially suited for gnawing on things like seeds, grains, berries, and other plant material. This aptitude for chewing tough stuff to bits is apparent all the way down to the bones and muscles of their little mouse-like jaws. In fact, members of the group have a unique arrangements of the medial masseter muscle of the jaw, which runs through their eye socket.
To find out more, be sure to read the mouse-like rodents profile.
Photo © David Tipling / Getty Images.
Scientists have identified two new soft coral species that live in the waters of the eastern Pacific. The two new species, both classified as gorgonian corals (a group of soft corals that includes sea fans and sea whips), have been given the scientific names Eugorgia beebei and Eugorgia mutabilis.
The new species have been classified in the genus Eugorgia, a collection of 15 marine species that occur in a range that stretches from the shores of southern California to the coastal waters of Peru. Eugorgian corals are octocorals (corals whose polyps form colonies with eight-fold symmetry). They inhabit a variety of water depths including shallow waters (as deep as 40 meters) as well as mesophotic waters (from 40 to 65 meters deep, where light is too scarce to support photosynthesis).
The two new species were previously recorded as color variations of other existing species. But after careful consideration, the specimens have been declared species in their own right. Eugorgia mutabilis forms broad colonies with with long, flattened branches that curve and turn in an irregular pattern. Living specimens are white or pale pink. Eugorgia beebei is forms a sparse, upright colony that is white in colour and has irregular branching and prominent polyps.
Photo © C. Sánchez / Eurekalert.
A few turquoise-tinted scales on the side of a female fence lizard's neck could spell disaster for her love life. This was the conclusion of a newly published study by Tracy Langkilde, an associate professor from Pennsylvania State University, and Lindsey Swierk, a graduate student in Langkilde's lab.
Male fence lizards have brilliant blue patches of scales—also known as badges—on the sides of their throats and abdomens. The intensity of these blue scales is bolstered by the lizard's testosterone levels. But this color pattern is not limited to males. Females, too, often have similar, though paler, markings on their neck and belly. This suggests that badge-bearing females have sufficient testosterone levels to cause badges to form, while females that lack the badges have lower testosterone levels.
Over the course of several experiments, Langkild and Swierk discovered that male fence lizards tend to ignore females that have turquoise neck markings while instead focusing focus their courtship energies on females that lack the turquoise markings. Langkilde and Swierk's studies also revealed that female lizards with badges laid lighter-weight eggs later in the season than those laid by females without badges.
The preference male fence lizards have for females without badges may be driving the evolution of the fence lizards towards the loss of the badge in females. Although at this time over 95 percent of females have a badge, that proportion could change quickly during the coming generations, causing the badge in females to disappear from the species.
Swierk L, Langkilde T. 2013 Bearded ladies: females suffer fitness consequences when bearing male traits. Biol Lett 9: 20130644. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0644
Photos © Langkilde lab / Penn State University.
More About Reptiles
A new species of hammerhead shark, the Carolina hammerhead (Sphyrna gilberti), was discovered by a team of scientists who were studying fish diversity in South Carolina's rivers and coastal waters. The team, led by ichthyologist Joe Quattro from the University of South Carolina, recently reported their findings in the journal Zootaxa.
The new shark was previously classified as belonging to another species of shark that occurs in the same region: the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini). The situation is easily understood—the two species are nearly identical to look at. But after carefully analyzing genetic data for numerous shark specimens, Quattro and his colleagues concluded that they were looking at two, not one, species of shark. The research team went on to study the anatomy of the Carolina hammerhead and found another distinguishing characteristic—Carolina hammerheads have ten fewer vertebrae than scalloped hammerheads.
As is too often the case when new species are discovered, the Carolina hammerheads are believed to be very rare. Joe Quattro and his colleagues noted that out of the three-hundred-plus hammerhead sharks the y analyzed during their study, only five sharks turned out to be Carolina hammerheads; the rest were scalloped hammerheads. They concluded that the number of Carolina hammerheads is very small relative to the number of scalloped hammerheads. And since scalloped hammerheads are becoming increasingly rare, Carolina hammerheads are probably even rarer and in need of protection.
Quattro JM, et. al. Sphyrna gilberti sp. nov, a new hammerhead shark (Carcharhiniformes, Sphyrnidae) from the western Atlantic Ocean. Zootaxa, 2013; 3702 (2): 159 DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3702.2.5
Photo © Barry Peters / Wikipedia.
More About Sharks